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What Would Dismantling Minneapolis' Police Department Look Like?


And Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender joins us now on the line. Miss Bender, thanks for being with us.

LISA BENDER: Good morning. Thank you.

MARTIN: So we heard that last voice there saying that this is a big symbol; this is a big statement. But what does it look like in practice? I mean, what does it mean to dismantle your city's police department?

BENDER: Yeah. I mean that's the question that we will all be asking and answering together. I mean, I think it's important to step back and realize that Minneapolis is a relatively small city - 430,000 people - and this is not the first time that police have killed a community member in recent years. We've had a number of very painful deaths of Jamar Clark, of Justine Damond. We have done every reform in the book. I mean, there are more layers and more - and farther we can go with reform.

But, you know, to see George Floyd killed in the way he was, I think, just shows to our community that these incremental steps we've been taking are not working to solve this toxic culture and our police department, to break through the lack of accountability. And our community is demanding that we do more.

MARTIN: And I think that statement resonates a lot, clearly, with people who live there, and it's something being echoed across the country. But, nevertheless, it is - the onus is on you, your other colleagues, to come up with an alternative, right? It can't just exist that this community has no form of protection, of guardianship. Something has got to replace it. Do you have even the contours of what that would be?

BENDER: Absolutely. I mean, our top priority as community leaders and elected leaders is to keep everyone in our community safe. And we know that our police department isn't doing that. So I think the first step is telling that truth and being brave enough to say what so many in our community have been telling us for years from our platforms as elected leaders. We are not starting from scratch to create alternative systems of safety. We have an Office of Violence Prevention. We've been giving grants to community organizations to do community-based safety for years.

We did a full analysis of all the reasons that people call 911 in Minneapolis last year to learn why people are calling for help and how we compare an appropriate response to those calls that often wouldn't involve an armed police officer. And there are models for these community-based safety strategies all over the country and all over the world. We've gotten lots of offers of expertise coming into Minneapolis, and, you know, we will accept those offers.

But we know that a lot of the knowledge and expertise really lies in our own community. So while, yesterday, we made a bold statement about our vision for where we're going, I think the most important commitment we made was to spend the next year talking with every resident of our city who's willing to engage in a conversation about what safety looks like for everyone.

MARTIN: I want to play a clip from Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot. She was on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. Let's listen.


LORI LIGHTFOOT: You can have all the policies that you want, and I think the Chicago Police Department has policies that would be the equivalent of two New York City police departments. But it really comes down to changing the culture, and the culture lies, in a lot of ways, with the supervision.

MARTIN: There are a lot of critics, skeptics, who say dismantling the police department just goes too far. Why not change what's happening at the department's supervision level, as Mayor Lightfoot suggested?

BENDER: Yes. I mean, we've had two amazing reform-minded police chiefs, including our current police chief, Medaria Arradondo, who's our first black police chief. And the - many of his team and leadership are on board with reform. They're leading change. But I think they're up against so many barriers. The union has very vocally stood with the police officers who were involved in George Floyd's death. They've long resisted, stopped change with every mechanism they can. You know, they're a political organization, of course, and so they're really pushing against change in every way that they can.

So I think we've seen that even if we have inspiring and inspired leadership in our chief, even if - you know, for the last five years or so, our two police chiefs of color have interviewed every single recruit coming into the department themselves in order to help efforts to diversify the force, both racially through many practices but also to look for those qualities that we want in police officers. But, again, all of those efforts, you know, still didn't stop George Floyd's death.

MARTIN: We should also just mention the mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, has said that he is against, at this point, defunding the police. Obviously, you're going to be involved in conversations with him and community members over the next many months to figure out what a revision to the police department would look like. We appreciate your time. Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender. Thank you.

BENDER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.